Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, July 31, 2015

FARMING IN LAURENS IN 1915




The somewhat lackluster year of 1915 was more remarkable for what did not happen here
than what did happen.  After a quarter century of unbridled growth, Laurens Countians began to
suffer from business closures, cotton crop failures and general uneasiness about their future.  The
county had reached its zenith in 1913 and 1914, but there were always people here who never
lost faith in themselves and the county they loved.

For example, take a look at an article penned by "A Dublin Resident," in the August 10,
1915 edition of the Macon Telegraph, which he titled, "Laurens County Proves Its Splendid
Richness - Brilliant Opportunities in Laurens for The Worker."

In proclaiming that life is worth living the writer pointed to a "countywide" spirit
progressive reform in bettering schools and churches in addition better home lives and farming
conditions.  Credit was given to the county commissioners, school officials and teachers, Sunday
school, the Laurens School Improvement League and school agricultural clubs for the continued
growth in the county.

First and foremost on the minds of Laurens Countians in 1915 were good roads, not only
passable and maintained county dirt roads, but the coming of the Dixie Highway to Central
Georgia.   As the year progressed, Dublin appeared to be a sure spot on the highway's two route
selections from the trans continental Columbus to Savannah route, the future Highway 80, or the
Savannah to Atlanta route, which was not chosen. 

With its half million acres and 810 square miles of area, the need for new and better
county roads were always on the all-important minds of the voters. With improved roads came
the need for things we take for granted today.  Concrete culverts and bridges were on the need list
of the commissioners, who, in those days, were called "Road Commissioners."  The first
non-river crossing bridge was the steel bridge over Hunger and Hardship on North Franklin
Street.  With new and improved equipment and an abundance of natural soil resources, the
commissioners began to further appease their voters as tax dollars would allow.  

Boasting the fact that Laurens was a "Two-Crop County," the author pointed to the fact
that the number of farms was increasing every year. That figure would peak in 1924, when the
county boasted more than 4000 farms, an all time state record.  Part of the increased number of
farms was attributed to the subdivision of once larger farms and former ante bellum plantations
across the northern portion of the county and the cultivation of the pine and Wiregrass section
along the lower southwestern edge of the county. Prime farm lands brought between 25 and 50
dollars per acre, far below the prices of farms in other southeastern states.

The boastful, status quo  idea that a cotton-corn dominated agricultural economy would
continue to support Laurens Countians soon dissolved into oblivion.  The coming of the boll
weevil and the near destruction of the cotton crop led to a massive crop diversification
agricultural pursuits for the first time since the Civil War.  Before the war,  the plantations across
the northern end of the county were forced to diversify to support all of the needs of the residents
of the county.  

As the cotton economy began to fail, farmers looked to other vegetables, grains and
grasses, such as oats and vetch,  as well as increasing the production of livestock, swine and their
byproducts. 

Dublin, the county seat, was pointed to as the key to the economic development of the
county, which was the center of a developing commercial and industrial area.  The writer saluted
the communities of Dexter, Dudley, Cadwell, Rentz, Tingle, Montrose, Rockledge, Brewton,
Lovett, Minter, Orianna, Catlin, Cedar Grove and Poplar Springs for working together with
Dublin and each other.

By all accounts, this writer was hopelessly optimistic as to the near future of Laurens
County.  With the escalation of World War I and the country's eventual entry into the war in
Europe, agricultural activities began to stabilize.  Once the war ended and the cotton crop failed
to rebound, the economic consequences were staggering.    As the county peaked in  its number
of banks to a mark only behind Fulton and Chatham counties, one bank after another began to
fail.  Before the end of the 1920s, the county's banks dwindled down to two, the Farmers and
Merchants Bank and the Bank of Dudley, which were owned by single families.

The sole purpose of the 1915 article was to show that Laurens County, though ravaged by
the boll weevil, had the power to survive any agricultural crisis.  With an average annual rainfall
of 51 inches over the previous four decades, Laurens farmers were poised to continue their large
yields.

The author pointed to the ten million dollars of farmland encompassing a quarter of a
million acres and 400 square miles, and  fed by the streams of the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers,
the county was perched on the precipice of greatness.

Two indicators of better time was the formation of the Farmers Supply Company and the
Laurens County Farmers Union.  Cotton production in 1914 rose to nearly 60,000 bales, or
30,000,000 pounds.  Beating that second highest record, set in 1911, would be difficult for
Laurens County's farmers, who had led the state from 1911 to 1913 and finished a close second
in 1914.  

Production plummeted in 1915 by nearly a third in Laurens and in the other leading
counties in the state.  When the bales were counted and estimated, production for the year 1915
amounted to 40,000 bales, although respectable, was regarded as a devastating loss to Laurens
County's farmers.  

The Laurens Herald looked at the 40,000 bale figure and applauded it as a sign of
increased diversification.  On the optimistic side, the first carload of hogs, sponsored by the
Farmers Union, were shipped to Moultrie in hopes of agricultural diversification.  A county wide
soil survey was completed to give farmers a better knowledge of soil conditions across the
county.

In retrospect, not even the invulnerable Four Seasons Department Store, which had been
the leading store in the East Central Georgia area for nearly a decade, could withstand its losses
when it filed bankruptcy.  

Despite drastic changes in cotton crops and prices and the national economic woes,
Laurens County farmers persevered for the next three decades.  As World War II ended, the
county's farmers once again led Laurens back to the top of the list of the most productive farming
counties.  

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